Luca Beltramini

Luca Beltramini (Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia) : « A Sophist Labelling Someone Else as a Sophist: Translation Problems in Lucian (Peregr. 13) »

              The term σοφιστής is widely attested in Lucian’s works, and it surely represents one of the key-words in the history of Greek literature of the imperial age. The 2nd century is in fact, according to Flavius Philostratus’ well-known definition, the age of the ‘Second Sophistic’, and Lucian himself, in many respects, can be considered one of the main representatives of this movement. However, an accurate translation of this term in Lucian, in each of its numerous occurrences, is highly problematic; in fact, at that chronological level, it carried a very wide range of meanings, deriving from a long cultural tradition, in the course of which it had taken on different values from time to time, be they neutral, positive or explicitly derogatory. A correct translation of it, therefore, always requires a great effort, which can allow one to understand the precise semantic context of the passage in which it occurs and its cultural background of reference. To complicate this framework there is also the fact, already mentioned, that Lucian himself can be labelled as a ‘sophist’, and so any use of this term by him is charged with a further problematic nature, which calls into question the strong self-awareness he had as a writer. Finally, one must also add the deeply impenetrable nature of Lucian, which casts an ambiguous veil of irony over everything he says, thus making it complicated to grasp the exact intention lying behind his lexical choices.

               A particularly tricky case of translation, in this context, is the occurrence of this term in De morte Peregrini, one of Lucian’s best known works, in which he attacks Peregrinus, an interesting and ambiguous figure hovering between a charlatan, a Christian leader and a cynical philosopher. Right in the description of the Christian phase of his life (chapters 11-13) there is a famous and surprising mention of Jesus, who is referred to as ὁ ἀνεσκολοπισμένος σοφιστής. This is a much discussed and very problematic definition, and in this case more than ever it is necessary to understand how one can translate what Lucian meant by the label σοφιστής referred to the Nazarene. After clarifying the history of the evolution of the different meanings assumed by this word, according to the different cultural contexts and the different realities indicated each time by this term (focusing on the level of ‘langue’), and after examining the various meanings in which it is employed by Lucian (moving to the level of ‘parole’), the central aim of this presentation will be to investigate how the various translators, over the years, have tried to solve this translation enigma, and then to try to find a solution for this term which, in fact, albeit very common, turns out to be untranslatable for several factors: because a correct translation of it would require a clear and unequivocal understanding of what Lucian meant by it and, therefore, of what he really thought of Jesus (which is almost impossible to clarify with certainty); because the realities referred to by this term (sophist, itinerant rhetor, etc.) only make sense in a precise cultural and social context, which is irreproducible today; finally, because this term is tremendously ambiguous, and the number of possible translations is dramatically high, and the translator is forced to make an insidious and conscious choice when faced with it, and must therefore deal with the problematic and dialectic nature of the act of translating.

        Bibliografia essenziale

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Beltramini 2020 = L. B., « Christianity in the eyes of a Greek intellectual : the notions of σοφία and τελετή in Lucian’s De morte Peregrini » in Journal of Hellenic Religion, XIII (2020) p. 37-75.

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